Federal CIOs could meet resistance in expanding role

Federal CIOs should prepare themselves for the culture change that may come in their evolving role as they shift from being the IT shop keeper to a leader making major decisions, said panelists discussing the role of the future federal CIO at a luncheon hosted by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management.

The meeting, held Nov. 16, focused on the topic, which was pushed into the limelight when the Office of Management and Budget on Aug. 8, 2011 released a memo that outlined the new focus areas for government CIOs

For a long time, federal CIOs felt they were the chief information person; they weren’t really leaders but more managers with no real autonomy, said Francis Rose, host of Federal News Radio’s “In Depth with Francis Rose” and moderator of the panel.

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But from being “the person who got called when the network was down or when the secretary’s BlackBerry didn’t work,” he said, the CIO’s role now encompasses much more than the making sure technology runs right. Budgeting and collaboration are among the new responsibilities that CIOs are taking on.

Prior to the relase of the OMB memo, the Office of Personnel Management decided to establish an investment committee that tracks every dollar amount over $250,000, said Matthew Perry, CIO at OPM.

“It’s interesting from my perspective [as CIO] that we lease a lot of properties in the whole United States,” he said. “Where is the IT side and why does the chief information officer need to be involved in that? Guess what? I have to support all of that.”

Federal CIOs have also found themselves working in a more collaborative environment and in partnership with other agencies. This shift from being autonomous to a shared relationship has proven to be “a tremendous cultural change,” said John Teeter, deputy CIO at the Health and Human Services Department.

“We’re in a time when the budget constraints being what they are, we can use that as a catalyst for bringing people together for sharing cost and developing consensus,” he said. "I think that, more than anything, can help us break down some of the cultural barriers. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.”

It's possible, however, the CIOs could meet resistance from other agency leaers who believe that the IT heads are trying to overstep their bounds. To guard against that, OPM Director John Berry sent a memo reinforcing the new stance on the federal CIO’s expectations and his vision for that role, Perry said. 

“Not that people don’t read OMB’s memos very much,” he joked, but a director’s memo that highlights expectations and vision of the CIO role, “everyone does read a director’s memo.”


About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 Howard

It is a little amusing to think that anyone could believe that this initiative will penetrate the wall of opposition to the CIO position. The one glaring lack of support of this whole endeavor has been and will continue to be an absence of doctorial, policy, procedural guidance from OPM implementing the Clinger-Cohen (CCA) Act. The CIO council and OMB can and should publish all their thoughts about how this position should function. But in the end it is OPM that must ultimately define, establish, and implement policies and procedures which set the role, functional relationships, accountabilities, and responsibilities within the Government Agencies Managerial Structure. CCA was DOA due to this lack of follow through and without it, this initiative will result in more of what we have lived with for the past 16 years. Rationally, one must at some point come to the conclusion that this result is intentional and the end-state goal is to continue to diversify, confuse, and overcome those that want to establish a structure providing the capability of having transparent government operations.

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 Befuddled

The funny thing about collaboration and concensus across multiple departments or agencies is this...in an IT project it takes a problem and adds a myriad of levels to the complexity with everyone's "wish list" and pretty soon you get a "kluge" that is an epic fail. Concensus is merely "horse trading" by the participants to get the things they want by selling their vote for things others want. collaboration is merely a sales job for the visions held by many of what this monster project will give us!!..Gee, sounds just like our Congress.

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